MIT is turning its campus into a teaching laboratory for addressing the world’s energy problems — whether it’s fueling shuttle buses with biodiesel made from used cooking oil, competing between dorms to see who can lower electricity usage the most, or constructing the most energy-efficient building on campus.

The challenge of the global energy crisis has galvanized MIT to bring together the research and work being done on energy across the Institute into the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI). Through its interdisciplinary approach, the MITEI’s goal is to find new ways to lower energy consumption and find new energy sources. Biodiesel@MIT, the dorm electricity competition, and the new MIT Sloan School of Management building are each examples of MIT leading the way — literally “walking the talk” — to creating an entirely new energy system.

Prof. Leon Glicksman says MIT should be at the forefront of researching ways for all new buildings to use less energy.

“Our charge is to look at issues related to the MIT campus in terms of energy efficiency opportunities and CO2 reduction opportunities. The goals are to do a better job for MIT and to make the campus a teaching lab for students,” says Leon Glicksman, professor of building technology and mechanical engineering, and co-chair of the MIT Energy Council’s Walk the Talk working group. The group intends to do a long-range study of the MIT campus to identify the most efficient and cost-effective scenarios balancing energy efficiency, renewable energy supply, and advanced conventional supply systems through the middle of this century.


Perhaps the most concrete example of MIT’s walking the talk in addressing the energy challenge is the new building for the MIT Sloan School of Management. The building will house faculty offices and classroom space. MIT Sloan’s new building will be a high-performance structure with sustainable design features fully integrated during the design process, says Walter Henry, director of the Engineering Division of the Department of Facilities.

The new building will have a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient cooling system, using chilled beams for cooling. High performance walls and windows will cut heat loss, and the building will have more efficient lighting systems, and demand controlled ventilation — to save energy by varying ventilation depending on the number of people in a space. The new MIT Sloan building will be about twice as efficient as other buildings on campus.

“Our goal is to have MIT Sloan be the most energy-efficient and sustainable building on the MIT campus,” Henry says. A key to achieving that goal is making lower energy use part of the design from the beginning of the process, instead of trying to address energy issues after the architects have already designed a building. When energy usage is dealt with as an afterthought, the buildings are less efficient, Henry says.

“MIT Sloan is doing an integrated design process, making sure that things that are related to energy efficiency, better air quality, and lighting are included in the design from day one,” says Glicksman, adding that in terms of the United States’ energy use, buildings consume about 40 percent of all energy and over two-thirds of electricity. “Whatever kind of buildings we put up, they should be an example of the best practice out there.”


MIT has also set a goal that all new buildings will have a LEED Silver certification. LEED, a nationally used green building rating system, stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The goal for the MIT Sloan building is a tougher Gold certification. Beyond attaining LEED certification, the Institute should be at the forefront of researching ways for all new buildings to use less energy, says Glicksman.

“MIT should be the lead in developing new technologies for the next generation of buildings, which will substantially reduce energy use, compared to the best buildings we have today. That involves ongoing research, work on day lighting, natural ventilation, and advanced controls that could be used in monitoring systems,” says Glicksman.

Another example of the Institute’s quest to be a leading example in lowering energy consumption will be the new Center for Cancer Research. MIT’s goal for that building is to design it to be the most energy-efficient laboratory building on campus. Some of the options being considered for the building include demand-controlled ventilation, high-performance walls and windows, exhaust heat recovery, and low-flow fume hoods.

Whether it’s through students competing with each other to use less electricity, or the Institute constructing buildings that use less power, the MIT campus is becoming a learning laboratory for energy usage and behavior management, and also a demonstration site for faculty and student research directed at improving the Institute’s energy management.

Glicksman says: “We hope to be leading by example. In the past, there hasn’t been somebody to take this leadership role, so that’s one of the places where we hope MIT can really make a contribution, near-term, and long-range.”